Article written by guest author, Stephen Scaggs
Soul, spirit, and body. These words make their rounds in our Christian vocabulary and they have a rich depth of meaning. I hope that in exploring this we learn to appreciate the importance of the body, and better understand the hope for resurrection and the eternal destiny of the soul.
Throats and Souls
What in the world does your throat have to do with your soul? Well, quite a lot actually. The word used predominately in the Bible for soul in its most literal definition means “throat” or “neck.”
This is how it is translated into English in many passages. In Psalm 69, the psalmist David is in the thick of turmoil. In verse 1 he writes, “Save me, God, for the water has risen to my neck.” Notice the wordplay here. The Hebrew people see your neck as a connection or bridge to life. And your life becomes endangered when you are on the verge of drowning. So David depicts his dire straits as water coming up and nearly drowning.
Perhaps the most famous example of this usage is from Psalm 42. Notice how the psalmist begins. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” While this may seem like an endearing image of a stag longing for God, the reason the deer is panting is because it is dying of thirst. As the rest of Psalm 42 bears out, this is a psalm for help and deliverance. But notice the subtle wordplay where you drink water with your throat, and the psalmist uses this metaphor to describe his deep longing for God’s presence.
You Are a Soul … and a Body
The first time the word soul appears is on the second page of the Bible.
…Then Yahweh God formed the man [Hebrew adam הָֽאָדָ֗ם] of dust from the ground [Hebrew adamah הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man [Hebrew adam הָֽאָדָ֖ם] became a living soul [Hebrew nephesh לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ].
– Genesis 2:7
“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul; you have a body.” This is sometimes falsely attributed to C.S. Lewis. But what I find interesting about this statement is that nowhere do the biblical authors seem to have this ideology. Rather the first time the word soul appears in the holy scriptures, humans are not given souls, but rather the dust becomes a soul.
Is there a distinction between your body and soul? Yes… and no. Even Jesus recognizes that there is a distinction between body and soul (Matt. 10:28 ESV). But Jesus’ statement here is in no way validating a low view of the body. The point here is that for the biblical authors your body is an integral component of your identity. It has been pointed out that the word soul functions more of as a life spark for man. It is who you are. But your body is an integral component of your soul, and should not be thought of as expendable or temporary.
Motivation for Godly Living
In many circles it seems that there is some significance given to the body, but that the body is ultimately expendable. But this is not the case for the apostle Paul. This emissary for King Jesus spends much time talking about the connection between your body and how you should then live your life. Notice some often quoted but glossed over texts:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
– Romans 12:1-2
Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
– 1 Corinthians 6:18-20
…According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
– Philippians 1:20
Hope for Bodily Resurrection
Despite many popular misconceptions, the Bible nowhere describes our heavenly hope as a bodiless or soulish existence. Biblical hope for the Christian is anchored in redemption: the holy prophets and apostles appeal to the bodily resurrection as the hope in which we are saved. For the New Testament authors, the bodily resurrection is not another check off the itinerary list as part of the Judgment Day: rather it is a core event. And in this bodily resurrected state, it is then we will be with the Lord forever and ever (1 Thess. 4:17).
To this point, arguably one of the clearest texts is Romans 8:18-25. Notice what the apostle Paul considers the hope of our salvation:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. … But we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies: for it is in this hope we were saved! Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Some object to this bodily hope with appellations to 1 Corinthians 15, which is ironic. It is ironic because 1 Corinthians 15 is precisely saying the opposite. “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body…” (15:44). Those who attempt to use this verse to argue against bodily resurrection must completely separate this verse from rest of the context in order to argue their point. Also, we need to be using the words “natural” and “spiritual” here as Paul uses them in chapter 2. The difference between natural and spiritual is not that one is immaterial or ethereal, and the other is dirt. The difference here is between what has become corrupted and what is incorruptible, what has become weakened by sin and what is strengthened by the Spirit of God (i.e. spiritual). Also, it is still a body, not a ghostly apparition.
Some also object with phrases like “flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of heaven” or other miscellaneous texts about not being able to see God. But I think it is important for us to stop when we read “flesh and blood” and realize that Jesus describes his spiritual, glorified resurrected body as “flesh and bone” (Luke 24:39). The phrase “flesh and blood” is actually a Hebrew idiom, and if you trace how it is used in the Bible (five other times), it is used to describe fallen, unregenerate, corrupted man (Matt. 16:13-17; Gal. 1:16; Eph. 6:12; Heb. 2:14).
Some also appeal to 2 Corinthians 5. But I encourage you to not to read 5:1 in isolation from the entire context. The argument Paul is making from 5:1-10 is not that “our earthly tent” is torn down. While in this present existence “we groan,” and we “long to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven,” which is what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15. The dwelling from heaven and the building from God is our resurrected body. Notice for the apostle Paul what it means to be dead and out of the body: “we will not be found naked … we do not want to be unclothed … what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.” (vv. 3-4). For the apostle Paul he desires earnestly to be in the presence of the Lord, but his ultimate hope is to be in his glorified body and in the presence of the Lord. It is not an either/or, but a both/and.
The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
Though some may think of their bodies as expendable, simply housing what is truly important, the hope of the resurrection of the body is utterly crucial to our faith. Not only does Jesus debate strongly for bodily resurrection (Matt. 22:29-33), but it is for the resurrection from the dead that the apostle Paul most frequently preaches on (Acts 23:6). When Jesus was resurrected, at no point does Jesus discard his appearance. When he was risen, Jesus actually eats breakfast on two separate occasions with his disciples (John 21:12). He describes himself. In fact, even at God’s right hand, Jesus is still a human (1 Tim. 2:5).
What do we mean by resurrection? Well, we have a lot of examples of what resurrection meant for the people of God. Every time the dead are risen in the bible, it is in their own body: Lazarus (Jn. 11), Jairus’ daughter (Lk. 8:40ff), Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43), Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12). And ultimately, of course, Jesus (Lk. 24:39; Acts 2:31; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). The difference between the resurrection of Jesus, the firstfruits of the dead, and the others raised is that Jesus would be raised never to die again: he was immortal, incorruptible.
The resurrection from the dead that we long for is precisely this. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:4 ESV). As John the Beloved writes:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
-1 John 3:2
Where Does This Leave Us?
Many Christians are comfortable talking about the resurrection of the body. But I suspect for many Christians this talk is uncomfortable. I think that it is uncomfortable because we all, as the apostle Paul mentions earlier, “groan in this present existence.” The material body itself is not evil: it is part of what God called “very good.” A statue is not evil even if black paint is vandalized on the image: all it needs is to be cleaned. So our experiences in this body, whether it is cancer, sickness, disease, chronic pain, or death, does not mean our body is bad or subpar: it means it needs redemption.
So as Christians, let us learn to love our bodies, which will one day be redeemed from the grave, redeemed from bondage, and will finally exist in all its created glory in the presence of our Savior.